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Songwriters Join Anti-p2p Queue
By Jon Newton, p2pnet.net
(more articles from this author)
2004-01-06
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Songwriters have joined the queue of people who claim they're victims p2p file sharing, more popularly known to the corporate community as online piracy.

"Unless they are also performers, most songwriters are typically neither rich nor famous, and their names may be known only to those who bother to read album credits or liner notes," says David Bernstein in his New York Times article here.

In fact, their earnings are more directly tied to album sales than those of recording artists, says the article, giving Charles Strouse, "a composer best known for his Tony-winning musicals Bye Bye Birdie and Annie" as an example of a songwriter upon whom "illegal downloading has had a disastrous impact on his profession, not to mention his income".

Maybe. Maybe not.

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"I am hurting," Strouse, 5, is quoted as saying. Even though his songs aren't as widely sought as hits by popular rock or pop stars, "he felt the effects of downloading after the hip-hop artist Jay-Z drew on Mr. Strouse's 'It's the Hard Knock Life' from 'Annie' for the 1998 album, 'Vol. 2 . . . Hard Knock Life," says Bernstein, going on:

"According to BigChampagne, an online media measurement company, Jay-Z's version of 'Hard Knock Life' was downloaded 1.16 million times from July 2000 (when the company began tracking Internet use) to May 2003. The total is probably much higher, said Eric Garland, BigChampagne's chief executive, because the entire lifespan of the song was not counted.

"Although songwriters typically earn only pennies for every sale of a recorded song, if every person who downloaded 'Hard Knock Life' had bought a CD instead, Mr. Strouse would have collected at least $46,000 in royalty payments, assuming he would have received 4 cents a download."

Nowhere have songwriters suffered as much as in Nashville, the nation's songwriting capital, says the report.

Illegal downloading "doesn't just affect Garth Brooks," it has Barton Herbison, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, saying. "It affects songwriters, it affects every studio in Nashville that's closing, it affects the working musicians. What it ultimately affects is the choice of music the public gets. When I have No. 1 songwriters working other jobs, we're not getting more music."

Shelly Peiken, 46, a songwriter in Los Angeles who co-wrote Christina Aguilera's 'What a Girl Wants' says although she estimates she's lost nearly $200,000 in royalties because of online piracy, she considers herself lucky. "Some of my friends are at the ends of their rope," she's quoted as saying. "I'm not going to make myself sick over it. But if I hadn't had these hits, I'd probably be pretty strung out right now."

But then again -

The argument, or part of it, is people are downloading songs instead of buying CDs and, therefore, songwriters are loosing out because they're not being paid the royalties they'd have received if the CDs had been bought over the counter.

However, the reality is: the music industry has failed, and failed abysmally, to look after the interests of the songwriters, and everyone else who depends on the major labels in one way or another, by flatly refusing to come to terms with the digital media.

First, they tried to kill online music. That failed. Now they're trying to swamp it, stomp it, buy it out, victimize file sharers - anything rather than make the concepts and technologies work for them and the people who rely on them.

Way, way back in the Dark Ages, there were things called singles. But they were cheap. Then came the more expensive (and therefore more profitable) LPs. But consumer electronic companies were now churning out cheap tape recorders and p2p file sharing was invented ...

... except back then, it was called 'duping' and it meant John taped the one or two songs on the album which were worth listening to so Mary in the same town wouldn't have to buy the entire (often trashy) release.

We now have mp3s and the Net. But John and Mary haven't changed. Much of the music industry 'product' is still inferior and grossly over-priced. And you still have to buy a load of crap to get the one or two gems.

But what else is new? Today, millions of Johns rip (instead of tape) the one or two songs worth listening to so millions of Mary's around the world (instead of three or four Mary's in the same town) don't have to buy the entire (often trashy) album.

If the labels faced reality, made their catalogs widely available (by charging maybe 10 or 20 cents a download) to anyone wanting to agree to a simple license, they'd be raking it in.

And so would the song-writers, musicians and all the other people involved in churning out music industry 'product'.

Of course, songs would be judged individually by their quality, with all that implies.

In the meanwhile, "There's a big dark cloud over the business right now," Bernstein quotes Peiken as saying.

She's right. But who's responsible?


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